Monday, February 25, 2013

In Which Hommlet is Left Surprisingly Intact: After play report 1

Calawas - Elf Thief (Katz)
Amalia - High Elf Cleric (Paraj)
Volbak - Dwarf Knight (Jim)
Lamaevhun - Wood Elf Scout (Tim)
Ilsildel - High Elf Wizard (Martin)
Chief - Wood Elf Barbarian (Catherine)

Our intrepid group of adventurers made it down the road from Verbobonc to see the little village on a hill with its strange new Church, bringing only some little gear and their travel-worn ponies. They came originally from a sylvan community on the shores of the Nyr Dyv, being a sort of extended family that was sent out "to make something of themselves" and, perhaps more importantly, to stop being near home. (The dwarf was adopted because his parents have strange ideas about the origins of the species; nobody's had the heart to tell him yet.)

They came with a decent amount of debt underwriting their expedition from the purser's Guild in Verbobonc, and so were quite interested in employment, and fast. (The pursers are known both for their usurious rates and for their legbreakers.)

Riding past the Church, their druid (not pictured above) spotted the standing stones of Jaroo's grove in the distance and set off in a beeline to, "Contemplate the inner mysteries of nature," over the wizard's objections that, "You can do that here, dude! I brought, like, fifty feet of rope!"

Instead of messing around in the town, they made a beeline for the Inn of the Welcome Wench, hoping to find lodging and, well, some wenches. What they found instead was more expenses, but Master Gundigroot was kind enough to put them up for the night with a basic meal in exchange for the party wizard making all of his lighting require no oil for the next week or so. During their copious conversation on the nature of the fare and serving staff, Lamaevhun and Isildel shared this gem:

"Dude, try the turnips, they have awesome turnips."
"I prefer the stuff I can kill myself."
"Dude, you can kill turnips! Can't you hear their screams when they bite into you?"

This went on for a bit, until the traders entered the establishment and managed to garner instant dislike from Calawas. Nevertheless, after a bit of verbal sparring, it was made clear to the greedy little bug- I mean, the party thief, that a chance for coin was afoot, so they repaired to the trading post for a bit of more private conversation.

It seems that Lareth is the leader of a band of ruffians that Gremag is convinced is harming business. After some wrangling the PCs secured the right to keep anything they find (of course!) and even a pouch of a hundred copper, which elicited quite the interest from Calawas when Rannos, the slow stupid one, went to open the safe. Also, they completely blew off the offer of a man-at-arms to go with them for only $15 a day.

After that, they decided to retire. Early and fresh next morning (at about ten o'clock, after getting rid of hangovers and having breakfast), they set off for the half-day's journey to the old moathouse everyone had been telling them about, passing by Burne's construction with only a few glances and leaving the druid behind to his contemplations.

It all went well and I read some box text (we're enjoying the box text), until they came upon a pool that the scout discovered was home to a colony of voracious monstrous frogs! He got off a shot, but then was quickly snared and swallowed, discovering that the larger ones had teeth. This caused Chief (an otherwise unassuming individual who has both Berserk and Sense of Duty (Fellow Adventurers)) to go a little crazy and start playing golf, smacking one of the dog-sized frogs straight into the side of the moathouse. The rest of the party dithered and got ready while the horses miraculously stayed their ground, sealing the scout's doom. (He was around seven hexes ahead, which was great for the rest of the party, but very bad for him when he missed his perception roll. Also, we discovered that our dwarven knight has a move of 2 with encumbrance. Whoops.)

  1. Three hours is enough time to do some roleplaying, but not enough for serious dungeon delving it seems. I should probably be prepared to stop in the middle of combat pretty much always.
  2. They didn't have a lot of interest in intrigue in Hommlet. I'm okay with this. They willfully stumbled into the one truly interesting thing going on, and none of the module requires that they care about Hommlet in the least.
  3. My players are prone to distraction. I knew this before; our last GM (the guy now playing the scout, poor man) basically had us run riot over his campaign with some nights where we didn't even play but fifteen minutes or so. Fortunately, they also respond well to direction. I don't want or need to be tyrannical, since half the joy of this group is getting together to talk about stuff, but they're attentive when I take the reins to get back to the game.
  4. I need to brush up on GURPS combat a little from a GM side. I know the rules, but it's been a while, so I have some trouble remembering to apply them all at times. There were definitely a couple moments where the frogs did some things they oughtn't be able to. Also, I need to firm up their stats a bit to deal with corner cases.
  5. I badly need to teach my players how to play, or they're all going to die. For example, our scout had a full second to himself to react to these frogs. He knows also that he's out in front, a goodly number of yards away from help. So what does he do? He shoots one frog once in the torso. With skill 16 and 5 yards away, without help coming, he should have at least gone for the vitals, or (if standing still instead of doing a Move and Attack to retreat) maybe use 1 FP to shoot the vitals twice (Heroic Archer makes that a 10 or less, or 11 if you don't want to defend - low, but when faced with a bunch of enemies without backup, quantity has a quality all its own). None of this occurred to the player, though, nor to anyone else at the table. However, my work is predicated on the idea that the players know their options.


  1. Huzzah! I was just about to pester you for this, knowing that you'd had your first session last week.

    Now to go and actually read it!

    1. The joy of GURPS combat - that is is so thoroughly thought out, and so flexible - can also be it's downfall for the players. If they're of the "I hit it with my sword" type, especially so.

      Have you considered a Combat Academy session, where you just play out combat options in a non-threatening environment?

      I'm definitely curious about this elf that refers to everyone as "Dude" - intentional in-character, or just an affectation of the player?

    2. I'm considering a sort of combat academy session, and I'll do it if necessary, but for the moment I'm hoping that gentle or not-so-gentle nudges in the direction of good play will help. I can use NPCs to illustrate good play ("Deceptive Attacks work?") and also give some advice right at the table ("You should probably aim for the vitals; you have a total skill of 18.")

      The hippy in the group is the Wizard, as an interesting twist. The player wanted to have a High Elf that earned that appelation, so to speak.

    3. And, I apologize about the lack of updates lately. I've been having weird problems with Blogger, but they seem to be resolved.

    4. You might want to check out Doug's latest posts on combat skills, and what you can do with them.

    5. I look forward to your first opportunity to declare that "your love of the halfling leaf had clouded your mind!" in respect to your wizard.

      I've actually had some luck with a little pre-game question to the players individually - "Do you want me to coach you at all on combat options? I mean, if I see something that you might do differently without radically changing your action, to improve the result?" That level of pre-game buy-in can ease the way.

    6. I can't believe I hadn't thought of this.

      Perhaps I'll have a post later brainstorming ideas on how to nudge people in the right direction with the combat options.

  2. I'm happy to read your first summary!

    My players almost never spent any time in Hommlet either. I still don't see what's so attractive about it. It's kind of a bucolic dump. Not many young gamers felt a deep seated need to interact with those folks.

    1. I didn't figure they would. They might, later, if I push the local intrigue pretty hard, but it's really not necessary anyhow.

      I get the feeling Hommlet is beloved of GMs (because it's a loving portrait) more than players (because it's boring on the surface) by reading various eulogies in the blogosphere as well.

    2. Yeah. I read about how much people love it - more than the ToEE or the Moathouse. And I'm like . . . er, why? Maybe for the same reason people like The Shire. I'm more intrigued by the polyglot cities that Conan lurks in while thieving or reaving. Seems like Hommlet would be a nice place to live, but hell, I wouldn't want to adventure there. :)

    3. I love the Shire. It's a great place to not have adventures in. Unfortunately for the use of such a place in DF, Dungeon Fantasy is all about adventures.

  3. Very High Elf's player here. Patrick said it's ok for me to read and comment on the AARs. Here's some notes from my POV.

    The character is the hippy, not the player. It's just a fun stereotype and funny accent to layer over an absent minded wizard, really.

    I think this is my third time thru VoH and I've never been in a group that hung out in town. To be honest, Hommlet always dings my WSOD o-meter. DnD always seems to have tiny isolated frontier towns/villages that can't reasonably defend themselves from the local wildlife, let alone the bad guys the PCs are supposed to deal with, yet are still somehow reasonably independent and prosperous. This is probably a relic of frontier settlement in the American psyche, but on the American Frontier the settlers were fearsome compared to the frontier, not vice versa. The first encounter of the module is tough enough to literally eat the standing Hommlet militia for elevenses, no? I realize this is not a fair attitude considering the relative sensibility of a dungeon under a swamp, but there it is.

    More generally, at max one the characters is built to be interested in intrigue.

    **There were definitely a couple moments where the frogs did some things they oughtn't be able to.***
    *** None of this occurred to the player, though, nor to anyone else at the table.***


    I noticed both things, but outside for when BackStabby McDirtbag's player (who is unfamiliar with GURPS) asks for advice, I generally try to refrain from rules commentary. In part it's not polite to steal other folk's agency, or to correct the GM unless things are pretty damn serious. In part it's because I am a control freak when I let that side of me show and it's not pretty or fun.

    ***However, my work is predicated on the idea that the players know their options.***

    It is undoubtedly true that several of the players don't really play tactical combat optimally.

    However, you might also want to consider:

    1. We underestimated the enemy. Two man sized frogs (and three dog sized ones in hiding) are not obviously threatening until you learn that their tongues hit harder than Mike Tyson and then drag you 15 feet in the next second combined with a 2d-2 cutting bite and grapple/swallow, or that 4 points of impaling damage to the torso does not seem to phase them. Lame-eil's player probably thought his arrow would deter or disable the one frog and that the other wouldn't be able to kill him in 2-3 turns. Ilseldil certainly didn't think they were very threatening initially or I wouldn't have wasted time on a missile spell (good for "doing something" while the other PCs have fun) rather than going for something more effective but upstaging.

    2. We have not traditionally played a tactical game in this group. What percentage of enemies did the other PCs (not Woodpecker or Matlock) take down in the last campaign? Yes, you are aiming for a tactical game here but I don't think it has sunk in yet.

    3. You haven't been exactly clear on how tactical we are being here. Are we using all of Martial Arts? All of the extra-effort options? There's a lot of tactical depth in GURPS and I don't think the default depth of the other players matches yours or mine. You might get a lot of value from just making a cheat sheet of what's allowed with appropriate highlights for each player.

    All that said, it might be *good* for the game if the Scout bites it on the first encounter. It will establish the tone and expectations very clearly, and strongly discourage any future urges for significant separation from the rest of the party.

    1. Thanks, Martin. This is helpful, especially the three enumerated points. Clearly I have some thinking to do.